Beyond the Box Score presented by Compass Minerals: Tim Melia and Sporting prevail in playoff match for the ages

"Beyond The Box Score" is a weekly series presented by Compass Minerals that takes a statistical dive into every Sporting match, bringing to light the intriguing numbers and factoids that don't appear in the typical box score. To visit the series archive, click here.


Children’s Mercy Park has played host to a number of jaw-dropping spectacles in its decade-long history. The 2012 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Finals. The 2013 MLS Cup and the entire playoff run that preceded it. The semifinals and final of the 2017 Open Cup. The Veterans Day playoff game against Real Salt Lake in 2018. And that fails to mention countless regular season barnburners at the MLS level and a batch of high-stakes encounters for the U.S. national teams.

For sheer drama, entertainment and storylines, Sunday’s enthralling showdown between top-seeded Sporting and No. 8 seed San Jose in Round One of the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs will unequivocally go down as one of the greatest battles ever waged on the Children’s Mercy Park pitch.

At the end of 120 breathless minutes: Sporting Kansas City 3, San Jose 3. Gianluca Busio, at the ripe age of 18, has scored a 91st-minute goal and surely the game-winner, only for a man more than twice his age—the MLS all-time leading scorer, a.k.a. Chris Wondolowski—to equalize with 97 minutes on the clock and force extra time. Alas, the first-ever MLS playoff game in which both teams score in second-half stoppage time.

At the end of penalty kicks: Sporting Kansas City 3, San Jose 0. And if we thought the penalty-saving legend of Tim Melia loomed large heading into Sunday, the 34-year-old colossus pulled a patented “Hold my beer” card by casting aside all three penalties he faced in the shootout.

In this postseason edition of Beyond the Box Score presented by Compass Minerals, we relive the instant classic by adding historical context to the several moments that had supporters on the edge of their seats and bursting into celebration—both in the stadium and at home. Let’s hop right in, folks.

MELIA'S LEGACY GROWS

We begin at the end, merely because Sporting Kansas City’s Tim Melia once again stole the postgame headlines for his heroics in the shootout. Sunday’s contest was the first 3-0 penalty shootout result in MLS history and the first time in which an MLS keeper has saved all three penalties he has faced.

Melia’s unprecedented accomplishment extends beyond MLS competition. In the history of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, an MLS team has failed to convert a single shootout attempt only once. This occurred in 2010, when Chicago Fire FC couldn’t score from the spot in a shootout loss to the second-division Charleston Battery. Charleston’s goalkeeper that night?

You guessed it: Tim Melia.

With Sunday’s triumph in the books, Melia boasts a perfect and ridiculous 6-0 record in penalty shootouts throughout his professional career. His penalty saving exploits have also extended into the regular season, where he has conceded only 14 of 26 penalties faced as an MLS keeper. His penalty goals conceded rate of .538 is the lowest in MLS history among goalkeepers who have faced at least 10 penalties.

TIM MELIA IN PENALTY SHOOTOUTS
(PROFESSIONAL CLUB CAREER)

Date Team Opponent Competition PK Result PK Saves
06/30/2009 Rochester Rhinos Columbus Crew SC U.S. Open Cup W 5-3 1
06/29/2010 Charleston Battery Chicago Fire U.S. Open Cup W 3-0 1
09/30/2015 Sporting KC Philadelphia Union U.S. Open Cup W 7-6 2
08/09/2017 Sporting KC San Jose Earthquakes U.S. Open Cup W 5-4 2
07/26/2020 Sporting KC Vancouver Whitecaps FC MLS is Back Tournament W 3-1 2
11/22/2020 Sporting KC San Jose Earthquakes MLS Cup Playoffs W 3-0 3

As outlined in the table below, Sunday saw Manager Peter Vermes’ men continue their strong run of fortune in penalty shootouts since the dawn of the Sporting Kansas City era in 2011. Sporting have won six of their last seven shootouts dating back to the 2012 Open Cup Final, with Melia accounting for four of those six victories.

PENALTY SHOOTOUTS DURING THE SPORTING KC ERA (SINCE 2011)

Date Opponent Result Pens Competition SKC GK
08/08/2012 SEATTLE T 1-1 W 3-2 U.S. Open Cup Jimmy Nielsen
12/07/2013 REAL SALT LAKE T 1-1 W 7-6 MLS Cup Playoffs Jimmy Nielsen
09/30/2015 at Philadelphia T 1-1 W 7-6 U.S. Open Cup Tim Melia
10/29/2015 at Portland T 2-2 L 6-7 MLS Cup Playoffs Jon Kempin
08/09/2017 SAN JOSE T 1-1 W 5-4 U.S. Open Cup Tim Melia
07/26/2020 vs. Vancouver T 0-0 W 3-1 MLS is Back Tournament Tim Melia
11/22/2020 SAN JOSE T 3-3 W 3-0 MLS Cup Playoffs Tim Melia

Incredibly enough, Melia’s masterful performance in penalties came after 120 minutes of pulsating soccer in which Sporting and San Jose both demonstrated attacking initiative. It was a delightful watch for neutrals and a nail-biting one for supporters on both sides.

After taking an early 1-0 lead, Sporting fell behind 2-1 before halftime and was put in the unenviable position of playing from behind. Ilie Sanchez and Busio would both find the back of the net in the second half, helping their team to just the fourth come-from-behind triumph in Sporting’s playoff history. Those four results are listed below, with the penalty shootout wins—the 2013 MLS Cup and Sunday’s contest—officially counted as draws in the record books.

SPORTING KC COME-FROM-BEHIND PLAYOFF WINS

Date Opponent Stage Trailed Result
09/26/1996 FC DALLAS Conference Semifinals 1-2 W 3-2
11/23/2013 HOUSTON DYNAMO Conference Finals 0-1 W 2-1
12/07/2013 REAL SALT LAKE MLS Cup 0-1 T 1-1 (7-6)
11/22/2020 SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES Conference Quarterfinals 1-2 T 3-3 (3-0)

Had Melia not stood on his head in the shootout—or, perhaps, if Sporting had held on to win 3-2 in regulation—young Busio would have likely been cast as the game’s biggest hero. The teenage Sporting KC Academy product assisted Ilie’s second-half equalizer on a corner kick before firing the hosts ahead in the 91st minute, capping a brilliant attacking buildup involving Gerso Fernandes and Khiry Shelton. In doing so, Busio became the youngest player in MLS history to score a goal and record an assist in a playoff match. His full list of age-related milestones on Sunday is listed below.

GIANLUCA BUSIO IN SUNDAY’S VICTORY (18 years, 178 days old)

  • Youngest player in MLS history to score a goal and record an assist in a playoff match
  • Fourth youngest player in MLS history to score a goal in a playoff match
  • Youngest player in Sporting history to start and appear in a playoff match
  • Youngest player in Sporting history to score and assist in a playoff match

Busio’s superb display came on the day that Sporting fielded three Homegrown Players in a playoff game for the first time. Twenty-year-old right back Jaylin Lindsey went the full 120 minutes in defense, while 22-year-old midfielder Felipe Hernandez was a high-energy second half replacement for Espinoza.

Speaking of Espinoza, the 34-year-old veteran marked his 300th competitive appearance for the club in style. Just four minutes into the game, the two-time World Cup veteran steered a terrific header into the corner of the net off a Johnny Russell corner kick to give Sporting early momentum. It was the first playoff goal of Espinoza’s storied MLS career and, remarkably, his first headed goal in a Sporting uniform.

Espinoza is one of three players with 300 career appearances for Sporting in all competitions, joining fellow club legends Matt Besler and Graham Zusi. It should be noted that Sunday was the first Sporting playoff game since 2008 that didn’t feature Besler and Zusi in the lineup, as both players were sidelined through injury.

SPORTING KC: MOST CAREER APPEARANCES IN ALL COMPETITIONS

Player Games Starts Seasons
Matt Besler 348 337 2009-2020
Graham Zusi 345 301 2009-2020
Roger Espinoza 300 270 2008-2012, 2015-2020
Kerry Zavagnin 291 281 2000-2008
Nick Garcia 273 272 2000-2007

As for the guy who assisted Espinoza’s goal, Russell backed up his 2020 team MVP selection with a tireless performance on Sunday in which the Scottish international became one of five MLS players since the start of 2018 to hit 25 goals and assists (including playoffs). Russell’s place on that elite list is detailed below.

MLS PLAYERS WITH 25 GOALS + 25 ASSISTS SINCE 2018
(REGULAR SEASON AND PLAYOFFS)

Player Club Goals Assists
Carlos Vela LAFC 54 31
Diego Valeri Portland Timbers 30 38
Darwin Quintero Minnesota/Houston 28 31
Nicolas Lodeiro Seattle Sounders FC 25 43
Johnny Russell Sporting KC 25 25

Make no mistake, Sporting made the most of their corner kick opportunities on Sunday—extending a notable trend that has become more and more noticeable over the course of 2020. Vermes’ men have scored 10 goals off corner kicks this season, three more than any other MLS team.

And finally, the last stop on our statistical tour paints a picture of how awesome Sunday’s contest must have been for neutrals. With six total goals to go around, it was tied for the second highest scoring playoff match in Sporting’s 25-year history.

HIGHEST-SCORING PLAYOFF MATCHES IN SPORTING KC HISTORY

Date Opponent Stage Result
10/02/2002 at LA Galaxy Conference Semifinals L 2-5
11/11/2018 REAL SALT LAKE Conference Semifinals W 4-2
11/22/2020 SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES Conference Quarterfinals T 3-3 (3-0)
09/26/1996 FC DALLAS Conference Semifinals W 3-2
10/08/1997 at Colorado Rapids Conference Semifinals L 2-3
09/24/2000 COLORADO RAPIDS Conference Semifinals W 3-2
09/25/2002 at LA Galaxy Conference Semifinals L 2-3
09/28/2002 LA GALAXY Conference Semifinals W 4-1
11/15/2003 at San Jose Earthquakes Conference Finals L 2-3
11/14/2004 vs. D.C. United MLS Cup L 2-3

With an unforgettable Round One triumph under their belts, Sporting has advanced to the Western Conference Semifinals and will host No. 4 seed Minnesota United FC on Dec. 1 or 2. Season Ticket Members have access to an exclusive ticket presale for the match today. Any remaining tickets will then go on sale to the general public starting at 10 a.m. CT tomorrow, Tuesday, Nov. 24.

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